Disclaimer: Nothing in the Buffyverse is mine. It all belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Any pop culture references made in this fic are also to things that I (sadly) do not own. For example, any lyrics used in dialogue. If you can recognize it, it's probably not mine.
Author's Note: Thanks to Gravenimage, ginar369, Gothic Saku-chan, two Guests, and nrdhrd3. I really appreciate the reviews. Another thanks to everyone who followed or made a favorite.
Buffy tensed, her nerves danced a fine line between preparedness and anxiety as she stared down the narrow road just off of Wilshire Boulevard. Only the recognizable skyline, ravaged by lightning strikes and earthquakes, suggested that they were in Los Angeles. It was beginning to truly seem like hell.
It was still dark, with only the barest traces of early sunrise peeking over the skyline. The eastern sky was a deep, dark crimson, the color of congealed blood, verging on the edge of becoming brighter, teasing them with the threat. There was nothing to do but wait, and watch, and scream on the inside, anticipating what was coming next.
The only sounds were of breathing, the soft clink of weapons being loaded or fondled in fear, and of Willow's rhythmic chanting, a never-ending stream of tu's and la's, as she painted a new symbol in thick herbal paste over the old with her first two fingers over and over. Despite these small noises, the silence was deafening. Buffy could barely stand it.
She leaned in to Spike's side, a blind grab for comfort in the face of the unstoppable. He tilted his head to hear as her lips barely brushed the shell of his ear. Buffy felt a small grin grace her lips despite herself and whispered, "Willow's chant is kind of an earworm, isn't it?"
Spike smiled, his cheek barely nuzzling hers before he pressed his lips to her ear. "I know. Sounds like too-ra-loo-rye, aye."
Buffy held back a hysterical, and highly inappropriate, giggle. Mom liked that song, Buffy thought, resisting the urge to hum it, her thoughts practically addled with adrenaline. She could feel the blood pounding in her ears.
Buffy bit her lip and her expression hardened in new resolve. "I wonder how long it will take to get it open."
"Not too long, I hope. Or I'll be the one singing 'C'mon Eileen'," Spike muttered, practically bouncing on his heels.
Buffy turned back to stare at the sunrise, now a dull red sphere peering across the high-rises, drenching the surrounding sky in its hue. A soft rumble had her clutching the scythe. She tossed a frantic glance to the minivan, watching Dawn load her crossbow with determined precision. Her baby sister about to fight in a war, and not for the first time either. Buffy's heart leapt.
Willow's chanting seemed to grow louder and more frantic as the soft rumbles came together. Buffy recognized the noise.
It was footsteps, the sound of the demon army moving in perfect synchronization, a well oiled machine made only to kill. Buffy knew it now, just as she had known the first night when Los Angeles went to hell. The beat of their marching had the slayers tensing, raising their weapons in a fierce symmetry. Veronica was gnashing her teeth, sword aloft as she waited for the storm to strike. Buffy concentrated on her heart again, something consistent, something sure as she gripped the scythe. That wild, pagan rhythm in her chest, pumping blood through her system, giving her the life to fight—
—until someone arrived and ended it.
"This is it," Buffy breathed. She turned to Spike, then to Angel at her other side, Cordelia to his right. Her eyes lingered on them too as the pounding drew closer. "Guys, this is really it. Dawn!"
Dawn peered out from the inside of the van as the slayers stared at her in disbelief for ruining that perfect, pre-battle silence. It wasn't long before they were also speaking frenzied, rushed last words to each other, preparing for the worst.
"What?" Dawn called back.
"I love you," she shouted over the din.
"Love you too!"
"Tell Xander the same thing!" Buffy yelled.
"Got it, Buff!" he called back.
"Hey, we love each other," Cordelia said. "But priorities…demons approaching, ring a bell?"
"Cordelia," Angel said. He looked for a moment that he might agree with her, put on a big, heavy-browed face of seriousness. To Buffy's surprise, he smiled. A huge, dorky kind of smile that she had never seen him wear before. Now there's a look I could get used to on that face, Buffy thought. He leaned down and kissed the corner of Cordelia's mouth, holding her face gently in one hand. "I love you."
"Love you too," Cordelia said quietly, for a moment she was misty eyed. She shook it off and gave him a joking smile. "Don't touch me with that sword thing though."
"Oh, yeah, right," Angel said as if startled and drew it away from her, but he still looked happy.
Cordelia's hands shook as she gripped her axe. She seemed to sway, listening to the sound of the approaching footsteps drawing nearer, Willow's chanting increased in volume once again, a near shout. Buffy could feel her power crackle through the air. She glanced back at her friend. Willow's hair glowed white, star-bright sparks flew from her fingertips. Buffy met her eyes, mouthing those same words. Willow nodded in agreement, smiling, but turned back to the wall in perfect rhythm, conviction increasing on every chant.
Spike fiddled with the sword he had gotten from one of the slayers' duffels. His free hand sought hers. Buffy's left in his right. She entwined their fingers, squeezing gently. We should have had more time, she thought, unexpectedly afraid she might cry.
"This is it," he repeated, staring at her with wild eyes. Spike released her hand and tucked her hair behind her ear. He leaned in to press kisses to her forehead, her cheeks, and her mouth. They were quick, hurried even, but Buffy drew strength from them, returning each with one of her own, lingering on his lips as long as she could.
Buffy threw an arm around his neck, dragging him down into a frantic embrace, long enough to inhale the scent of his skin, to feel him one last time. It lasted seconds, but considering what was coming for them, it might as well have been years.
"You know I love you, don't you?" Buffy asked, turning to stare as she heard the screeches of Hell's army closing in. She struggled for the words, something poetic and memorable, something that he could always carry with him, but all she could choke out was, "I love you so much. More than I have ever—tell me you know."
"I do. Buffy, love, I—"
They had arrived. Buffy could see the demons now, rounding the corner. These were tall, their skin a hard sheath of scales and spikes covering hard muscles, bone like tusks protruded from their lower lips. The one at the head of the crowd threw his head back and bayed, long and loud. A fresh wave of them bled in, right before her eyes, more demons than Buffy had seen in one place, even more than the night in the rain.
These new invaders arrived in three large crowds, packs of monsters bursting forth from a shop, a stretch of wall, and even a slow single file stream of them materialized through a payphone. Three more symbols followed them; melting through reality and staining whatever surfaces the demon arrived from in jagged slashes.
Willow was shouting now, her chant loud even above their screeches.
"Illyria!" Buffy yelled to the blue woman. "Cover Willow. We have to get out through there, it's our only chance. Don't let them touch her."
She complied, taking out two of the nearest demons on the way, cracking their skulls with sharp, bare handed strikes. Illyria took a place before Willow's glowing form, flanked by three slayers as the horde bore down.
Buffy turned back just as quickly, bringing the scythe with her to bisect the nearest demon. It wailed and fell in two clean halves, diagonally split, surprise frozen on its wrinkled face.
"Buffy, over here!"
She threw the scythe to Hannah, exchanging it for a common axe, short in the handle.
A Hellhound leapt for her, Buffy held it back by the axe's blunt handle against its snapping jaws.
"Hey there, doggy," Buffy growled, flipping it down. It struggled a moment against her, clawing for her. "Scythe!"
It flew through the air as she threw the axe, which the other slayer promptly caught and used to behead a horned demon. Buffy grasped the scythe with a firm hand and sliced through the hound's corded neck.
"Guess I'll tell the kids I left you at a farm upstate," Buffy muttered.
The scythe back in hand, Buffy took a moment to scan the crowd. The slayers were fighting well, but more and more demons were bleeding through. Was it her imagination, or were they getting scarier? More heavily armed?
Dawn and Xander shot arrows through the van windows. Dawn was shouting obscenities. Italian curses as a small crowd of heavy-jawed, horned monstrosities closed in. Dawn was safe, impaling each approaching demon with a surefire strike through the skull. Buffy spun, cutting down three demons in her wake, glancing around again.
She couldn't see Angel and Cordelia anywhere.
"You doing okay back there?" Angel shouted.
"Oh, you know me," Cordelia replied. "What's not to love about this?"
The first thing Angel had done was find them a safe spot near the wall with the original symbol, where Willow still screamed her chant over the roar of the battle, in case he needed to get Cordy through as fast as possible. Cordelia had exchanged the battle axe Willow had given her for a sword as they retreated, saying it made her line better in a fight. Angel was taking as many as he could in the onslaught, but the demons kept on pouring in. Angel had convinced Cordelia to keep her back to the wall while he guarded them. He stood only a few paces in front, fighting off what he could to spare her the exertion.
But Cordelia was holding her own. Angel had almost forgotten how good she was. Almost. But she dodged and created new openings to cut and slice and impale. She made her opponent fight to attack her, to get through her defenses. The demon was making more effort than she was. As long as she could keep it up, and not give in to exhaustion, she had a chance.
Then there was the sword. It was effective, to say the very least. The Senior Partner's creation was a killing machine, even when Angel was at half his usual effort. The look in the demons' eyes was reassuring. They knew what he had, and they were terrified. It thinned the vicious assault of demons gunning for them and allowed Angel to survey the battlefield that had once been L.A.
The ones that had been slain were mostly foot soldier types, Fyarls and Hellhounds, that common tusked variety that so many low-level demons employed as lackeys. But more were coming through. These were taller, their hides thicker, muscles more prominent, their faces more vicious. Worse still, they wore the seal of Wolfram and Hart molded into their armor. That damned logo that was mirrored on his sword. These were the big guns, the Senior Partners' best fighters.
They couldn't be far behind.
Cordelia's scream brought him back to his senses just as one of the demons in question came at him, its mace high and its snarls violent. Angel raised his sword, ready to kill, but Cordelia was in front of him.
She shoved her sword straight through the roof of its open mouth and out the back of its massive head. It fell to the ground, twitched once, and was still.
"If you take a picture, it'll last longer," Cordelia said with a grin. "By the way, handsome, you're welcome."
Angel shut his open mouth. "How did you do that?"
"Oh, that? It was easy, I just pushed up and kind of shoved it," Cordelia said, demonstrating a rerun with her bloodied sword.
"Not that, although, yeah, that was impressive," Angel said with a proud grin.
Another demon ran forth, Angel guided Cordelia back and cut it down all in one motion.
"Cordelia, you were standing at least ten feet behind me," he shouted as his sword locked with a nearby demon's flail. "How did you move that fast?"
"I don't know," she said in a struggling voice, fighting her own monster behind him. "It was going to kill you. I needed to be there and then, bam! I was."
"Have you ever done that before?" he called back. "Cause, you're acting like this is situation normal."
"Well," Cordelia said, audibly struggling for a moment. Angel heard a crack, a resulting squelch, and almost froze in stark terror. His heart unclenched as she continued speaking, the thud of the demon's falling body was music to his ears. "Back on the astral plane, I could sort of flit through stuff when I needed to move around. It was just kind of a given, considering how the plane runs…"
"Flit? You could flit and you never told me about it?" he asked.
"Well, if you haven't noticed, things have been crazy here and…well you never asked me about any of it," Cordelia replied, moving to his side and slicing his demon through the abdomen. "Besides, I didn't even do it on purpose, it just happened. I sort of move with this reality. It's a…thing. It feels natural."
Angel couldn't decide whether he wanted to press her further for more answers. You don't just drop that casual bombshell and not say more. Then again, was it really the time to say more? Angel settled for acceptance. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen stranger things.
"Cordelia," Angel said when it fell before him. They were momentarily ignored, tucked away in their little corner of wall as the battle waged on. Cordelia looked down at her bloodied nails, rubbing them. "I just…I mean, my girlfriend can teleport, kind of, or flit, or whatever you want to call it. It's incredible…Cordy?"
She looked up and tilted her head to the side, waiting for him to finish. That wasn't what caught his attention.
"Your nose is bleeding," Angel observed. The flesh was reddening slightly, and a small patch of skin on her cheek was bruising fast, as if a large hand had struck her across the face.
"I'm fine," she insisted, touching it gingerly. "The stupid demon clocked me. Classless. I mean, he had a freaking medieval flail and he backhands me. I ask you, where is his sense of chivalry?"
"Let me see. Are you okay?" he asked, brushing the fingertips of his free hand across the swelling skin. Cordelia winced when he touched the puffiest section. He used his sleeve to wipe that last trickle of blood from above her lip.
"Yeah, just a little woozy. Nothing like a head injury to aggravate a…mystical head injury," Cordelia said with a grin. Just as quickly she narrowed her eyes at him in distrust. It almost broke his heart. "I can still fight."
"I know you can," Angel said. Inwardly, he was fighting the urge to catch her up in his arms and run with her, far, far away.
The demons were returning, coming for them.
"Are you ready?" he asked her. She still looked dizzy, wiping away any blood he had missed.
Cordelia nodded, clenching her jaw, gripping her sword tightly by the hilt. Pushing through any pain.
For saving me.
"Oh my God," Buffy muttered, almost in annoyance, as a new round of demons melted through. These were larger, more heavily armed. She slashed her way through the crowd to the first entry point, wanting to take as many down as possible.
To her left, Spike was going strong against a Fyarl from the first wave, alternating between his sword and fists in a blur, a look of fierce pleasure on his face as he pummeled it into the next life. Beneath the harsh reality of what was occurring, on some base level, he was enjoying this. So was she. Buffy grinned and threw herself at a nearby demon, loping off its left arm, and earning a scream, followed by its snouted head.
"All right there, love?" Spike shouted, finally cutting it down. The weapon didn't need to be silver to inflict the damage he had done. There was no coming back from that, not even for the toughest demons.
Buffy could feel him, inches away. Spike's back to hers as demons closed in.
"I've missed this," she told him. Buffy kicked a nearby demon in the chest and heard it crack.
"Missed what?" Spike asked, striking hard at the demon nearest to him.
Buffy impaled her own opponent and turned back only to flash him a fleeting smile. "Dancing with you."
Spike's smile widened and he snapped the neck of the nearest demon with hardly any thought, running on pure adrenaline.
"Not dancing together though," he commented. Talking was giving the demon he fought the advantage. Spike called out, "A little help here, sweetheart?"
He ducked so Buffy could roll across his back, hitting the nearest demon with three fast, well-timed strikes. She took to the one beside it as Spike beheaded the first, moving in perfect time together.
She flashed him a brilliant grin. "You were saying?"
Angel grunted in shock as the demon before him snuck in a punch. He reeled a moment and struck back before remembering the sword. Behind him, Cordelia still fought. Angel was giving her that, giving her what she wanted. Buffy's words rang in his head with each strike of the sword. If she wants to go down fighting…
"Cordy, hang on a sec…kind of busy" Angel said, pushing back against the demon with a final shove and decapitating it. "Cordelia?"
He turned to face her. Cordelia leaned against the crumbling wall, breathing heavily. The demon at her side lay dead, but she was shaking. Her sword clattered to the ground at her side.
She can't fight like this.
"You remember before, how you wanted to save me?" she asked him.
Cordelia looked at him with conflicted eyes. She wouldn't voice her concern, her fear, but Angel could practically smell it. He would not take her to the van, no matter how great the temptation, but he could keep her alive in more ways than escape. In an instant he was there, slinging her arm around his shoulder and helping her stand.
"I can feel it," Cordelia told him with a smile.
"What do you feel?" he asked, slightly mystified.
"Kyrumption," she whispered. "I think I know what it means now. I can feel what it means. Can you?"
"I do," Angel murmured.
An ear splitting note rang out, high and sonic. Angel covered one of Cordelia's ears, the other pressed to his chest.
"What is that?" she shouted over the noise.
"They're coming through," Angel whispered. "This is it."
Buffy stood before the crowd of demons and put a hand on her hip. After that sound, that terrible sonic sound, the demons had regrouped into a tightly knit formation, a stretch of ruined pavement between both sides of the fight. The demons just stood there, preening, if they had human teeth she was sure she'd see grins. Spike shot her a glance of confusion, the slayers behind them sounded just as perplexed, but Buffy acted as if nothing was amiss.
"Okay, obviously you don't know how this works. You attack, I kill you, ring any bells…?" Buffy said in exasperation. "You gonna get started anytime soon or is the girl gonna have to make the first move here?"
The demons leered at her, snarling and snapping teeth.
"Okay, but you asked for it. I was going to try to be traditional about this, but there's no harm in me taking a little action," Buffy said, lifting the scythe and twirling it once before stepping forward.
The sky above them began to churn, a violent roiling mass of red and gathering dark grey storm clouds. Buffy stopped as the demons started chanting. The words were garbled and ancient, shiver inducing.
Behind her, Spike reached for her elbow, touching it only lightly, but encouraging her to step back, away from the empty space that separated them from the demons. She complied, watching them warily, the scythe still raised. Buffy wanted them to know she wasn't retreating.
"What is going on?" she whispered. "I have maxi-wig right now."
"Dunno," Spike said, his eyes darting around the demons and back to the violent sea of sky above. "Whatever it is, can't be good, now can it?"
Willow was still chanting behind them, her voice imploring now, desperate, her words mingling with the guttural tongue of the demon language. They shouted, bayed, and raised their weapons, not to fight, but in wordless celebration. Buffy shuddered.
The earth lurched once, just once. Buffy struggled to stand as lightning crackled above them. From behind, there was a brilliant flash of white, blinding and bright. Three more followed in quick succession, casting Buffy's shadow on the fractured pavement.
Willow must be opening the portal, Buffy thought as Willow's chants reached their peak. Buffy felt hope, sweet and forbidden, run through her. She glanced at Spike in disbelief, daring to smile. Her panicked mind gave her beautiful images, blissful ones. She could already see the places he would fit in her life. Their life. Maybe we can get through, we can make it, maybe we can—
The demons cheered as the earth gave the worst lurch yet. Buffy winced as she heard girls tumble behind her, weaponry clanging. The sounds of slithering, clicking, of sleek, quiet movement suddenly seemed louder than the demons, than Willow, than her own heartbeat thudding in her chest.
Buffy didn't know what to expect, an oozing Hellmouth beast, a giant snake, Olvikan, like the mayor had become. Whatever they were, they were here. They were coming.
All hell was about to break loose.